Band as Punishment

Teens can be quite the challenge sometimes, but I thoroughly enjoy being around them, mostly because of their youthful enthusiasm as they start to shape their futures by making decisions and learning from the decisions they make. Joan and I had a great ride parenting two sons through their teenage years.

As I watch and observe the struggles of the teens in high school, I can generalize three types who experience that great ride. For one group, I give much credit to good parenting. Good parenting doesn’t guarantee good teens, but it certainly increases the odds. These are the parents who are active and involved in their teen’s life. They’re on the PTO, in the band/choir/athletic booster groups, they come to watch practices, performances or games, they volunteer to help and they put up the money that most worth while ventures require. Some, are more behind the scenes supporting, enabling  and encouraging. Outside of school activities, the family is together a lot. Maybe there isn’t a lot of money for fancy vacations, but they find ways to do things together anyway. Single parents and those who have remarried can also do fantastic jobs. I comment on mine below. And my heart goes out to those super parents who are experiencing what author James Dobson calls “the strong-willed child”. Keep the faith and keep doing what you’re doing. The teen will figure it out eventually.

A second group, and one that I especially admire, are those teens who turn out great “in spite of”  their parents. These are the teens who have every reason (mostly by example) to crash and burn, and yet, they determine NOT to follow the paths of their parents and instead, commit themselves to a better life. These are the parents I never see. Sometimes it is a single parent with the extra financial burden of trying to support a family alone and super stressed and tired just trying to keep up, and I’m not faulting that parent. I’m talking about parents who don’t value what their children value. Let me tell you something. Your child knows, is hurt, embarrassed and deflated by your lack of support. I had a clarinet student once tell me, “my dad has never heard me play.” If your life is too busy for the life of your child, keep in mind that you will only have that child in your care for a short time.

Some relatively recent examples:

I was outside our band entrance door greeting students arriving for rehearsal and saw the car pull up and both the student and the parent get out. The girl ran to me, in tears, frantically exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before running into the building. Behind her came the papa holding a copy of our band schedule. There was no warm, fuzzy response to my “Hi, how ya doin’?” Instead, he almost slapped me in the face with the schedule he was waving before me as he grunted out, “How much of this schedule is mandatory?” After my response, “All of it.”, he mumbled something I’m sure I couldn’t put here even if I had heard it, and left. The daughter was waiting for me in the office, still crying, and apologizing for what she was sure I had just endured. My respect and admiration for her attitude and work ethic skyrocketed after that.

A student asked me for some individual clarinet lessons and wanted to know the fee. We had weekly lessons until she came in one day telling me she had to quit. She had run out of money. When I asked about it, I learned that she had gotten a job to pay for her lessons, because her parents would not, and when they learned how she was spending her earnings, demanded she give all her earnings to them.  We continued the lessons anyway, by the way.

Another bandster came in from the parking lot to ask for some help with his car. He had a flat tire and the radiator was leaking. Most of that was because of some stupid driving across the parking lot where he “accidentally” ran into the curb head on. He had called his parentals, but the other director and I proceeded to help him with the changing of the tire. To get to the spare, he had to unhook the huge woofer in the trunk, which he did. Unfortunately, the spare was also flat. The mother and boyfriend arrived and, instead of thanking us for staying or trying to help, the boyfriend starts screaming at the teen, “How dare you let somebody else touch my car. This isn’t over, kid.” There was another time where this same student called to see if I could come pick him up. His car had died along the road and when calling home, he was told to “walk”. I told him I wasn’t going to touch his car, but did go pick him up from the roadside (about 4 miles from school and at least that far from home).

And there are the teens who just naturally have what it takes for greatness. Natural greatness combined with good parenting is definitely a winning combination.

Some of today’s teens really have a rough home life. I’m not going to focus on single parent families, and I will never blame them, as the 5 children in MY family were pretty successfully raised by a determined, single, physically handicapped mom. Growing up in a single parent family can mean the parent is busy working, or exhausted from working, or is working multiple jobs trying to make it …. Some have bedrooms in two houses, or have to spend summers with the non-custodial parent. Often there’s the challenge of transportation. Schedules and especially finances can be a real challenge, but many great teens have survived and coped successfully with whatever hardships single-parenthood has presented them. Single parents, step parents and blended families can make it happen for their teen and so very many do that I find them encouraging and inspirational.

Some have both parents around but one is distant from the teen’s activities. I had a student several years ago who’s father NEVER came to anything. Even at her high school graduation, the father walked into the gym at about the time his daughter’s name was to be called, snapped a picture, and left the arena. There are some parents that I don’t meet until I visit the graduating senior’s open house party.

The teen years are hard. They start at Middle School where students can be oh, so cruel. Teens are trying to find where the boundaries are, trying to figure out life and what they want to do with it. Teens can rebel against authority, especially parental authority and they can get caught up in the wrong crowds trying to please people who will lead them nowhere good. Good parenting requires a consequence for bad behavior and that is where this post is headed.

For many parents, anything that you can take away can be an effective deterrent. For example, driving privilege, cell phone, ipod, freedom (grounding) …. can all be tools to help deter bad decision-making. I can’t tell you how many times I hear variations of “I get my phone back in 5 days”….

In that spirit of taking away something valuable, however, some parents include band. A few examples from recent years:

  • ….student must come home after school, even though there is a scheduled rehearsal. Part of the punishment is the grade cut and the confrontation with the director.
  • Parent: “We want to pull him out of band. We’ve just been having lots of problems with him lately.”
    Dir: “Are any of those problems related to band?”
    Parent: “No, but we’ve already grounded him and taken away his cell phone. He likes band, so we want to pull him out so he’ll get the point.”
  • Parent: “Here is a copy of our contract with our child.”
    Dir: According to this, you want to pull him out of band if he misses a single homework assignment or gets a C on any quiz or test? If that is your absolute standard, then you might as well change the schedule now, because very few teens can guarantee you that they will NEVER have a bad day on a quiz or test and I don’t want to have to fill that hole later.”
  • Parent: “This just isn’t working. She needs to come straight home after school every day.”
    Dir: On days were we have after school rehearsal, can she not come straight home immediately following rehearsal? What did she do?
    Parent: “Her room is a mess.”

It matters not to these parents that pulling a child out of band hurts the rest of the band as well. I so totally do not get that.

For some people, band is the best thing that could happen for them. They gain acceptance as a valued member of a group made up of a wide variety of people. They make friends, some lasting a lifetime. They learn things that will help them in the corporate (or whatever) world; chain of command, respect, discipline, work ethic, commitment, and more. Some, who will never be the highest academically or the strongest athletically can find and use their leadership skills in band. Or they discover the value of being an active, valued participant in a large team effort. One student, when receiving his show shirt almost teared up as he said to me, “I’ve never been a part of a group before.” A graduating senior told me how grateful she was for band “because of what it kept me away from”.

Some in band learn that there are many college degrees and vocations connected to music, such as:

  • Music Education – teaching music
  • Music Performance – teaching at the college level or performing professionally
  • Music Business – to learn everything from how to manage a band group to how to run a music store….and more
  • Music Therapy – a wide open vocation for using music to help in hospitals, hospices, psyche wards, schools and more. Some Music Therapists operate similarly to a psychologist or psychiatrist …. with an office and working with clients who have scheduled appointments.
  • Music Technology – everything from running sound boards to using computers to write and manipulate sounds and music.
  • Instrument Repair – if you think auto mechanics and appliance technicians have it pretty well, a good instrument repair person can be in high demand, either working for a music store or by running a shop themselves.

Everyone knows that only a small percentage of those in band will actually make a vocation from music. But having been in band can be something treasured for a lifetime. When visiting some of my former students in a band reunion in southern Indiana, a former flute student, who is now a doctor, credited band for helping her get thru the 10 or so years of schooling it took for her to become a physician. A bi-vocational pastor said band got him away from his drinking/drug buddies and helped him turn his life around.

Why then, other than the fact that they can have some satisfaction that they truly “hurt” that mis-behaving teenager, would a parent want to take a child out of an activity that has so much to offer?

You know, not only does it really hurt in that way, but I suspect some of the band students will resent that decision for longer than I imagine the parent has calculated. You should never use discipline to crush a teen’s dream.

Stick with grounding or withholding privileges if you must, but don’t use band or athletics as a bargaining chip. No on wins in that scenario, including the parent.

Thanks for reading my vent. Am I wrong?

JG

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One thought on “Band as Punishment

  1. Hi, John.
    I won’t address everything here, although I agree with just about everything.
    Let me say that I raised a child who was her own worst enemy (at the time). She has since really turned her life around and is doing very,very well. But I know how heartbreaking it can be to watch your child run to their own destruction. You make stupid decisions because of the chaos the child generates constantly and could kick yourself later.
    For quite a while I didn’t see neglectful parents. The last time was 24 years ago when I was teaching. “Mom” would constantly “forget” to pick up her son. I would come out of my office at 5 or 6 o’clock and find him kicking rocks around the school lot, still waiting for the ride home. (School let out at 2:30.)
    But then later, I had reason to meet some really unfortunate kids. None of their parents were married–and yes, I know that a lot of single parents kill themselves caring for their kids, but in a lot of the cases I ran into later, it was as if mom and dad just didn’t care enough to bother. I took one young lady to get her driver’s license at 18. No parent sat with her when she had to wait forever and got more and more nervous. They didn’t give her their IPAC to play games with, so I did. We played hangman, bubble popper, etc. for 2 hours until they finally called her. She passed (in my car). When she came back, glowing, flashing her license, she told me that she was the first person in her family to get a license. Even her parents had never bothered. I got a master’s degree, but that didn’t mean that I avoided driving my very sick daughter to the hospital constantly, to a zillion appointments, etc. So I had to quit forever the career I loved so that I could take care of .what was more important: my girls. I’m with you, John. We only get one chance to raise our children. No sub can really do it. It’s our one and most important chance to make the world a better place.

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